Zuma corruption trial set to start on May 17

A corruption case against former South African President Jacob Zuma and French company Thales related to a $2 billion arms deal will begin on May 17, the Maritzburg High Court ruled today.

Zuma stands accused of rampant corruption during his tenure as deputy president from 1999 and later as president from 2009 to 2018, although he denies any wrongdoing.

The arms deal allegations relate to his time as deputy president and he is being tried on 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering in connection with French defence firm Thales.

Zuma is accused of accepting 500,000 rand ($34,000) annually from Thales from 1999 as a bribe, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into a deal to supply military hardware to South Africa.

He denied the charges at a previous hearing. Thales, known as Thompson-CSF in 1999, has consistently said it has no knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contracts.

The pre-trial hearing, which was broadcast on local television, began today after it was postponed in December.

Zuma was not present for the hearing.

The case is ready to go to trial, the Maritzburg High Court said, and asked all accused to be present on May 17 provided COVID-19 restrictions allow representatives of the French company to fly to the country.

The trial will last from May until June, the court said.

Today’s development in the Maritzburg High Court came a day after the Judicial Commission into State Capture asked South Africa’s highest court – the Constitutional Court –  to find Zuma guilty of contempt and send him to prison for two years.

The commission, chaired by Deputy Justice Raymond Zondo, has indicated that it would be happy with a conviction and suspended sentence for Zuma, on condition that he testifies before the commission.

These positions are contained in the urgent application filed by the Zondo Commission to the Constitutional Court in which the case against Zuma was laid out.

In an unprecedented step, Zuma has defied both the Constitutional Court and the Zondo Commission to appear, testify and respond, among others, to allegations that have been made against him. He has also attacked Zondo and the judiciary. 

The commission seeks an order from the Constitutional Court that Zuma intentionally and wilfully failed to appear before Zondo on February 15-19.

They also charge that Zuma failed or refused to submit the commission with affidavits which the presiding officer ordered him to depose on issues relating to Eskom and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa. The commission said Zuma’s failure to appear and to file the affidavits was unlawful and intentional.

According to its submission, the commission also wants Police Minister Bheki Cele and National Commissioner General Khehla Sitole to be ordered to implement the order handed down by the court.

The commission has also asked the Constitutional Court to order Zuma to pay the costs of the application. – Thomson Reuters Foundation and African Mirror Reporter.

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